Portrait of Frederick the Wise by Lucas Cranach the Elder
Portrait of Frederick the Wise by Lucas Cranach the Elder Portrait of Frederick the Wise by Lucas Cranach the Elder Portrait of Frederick the Wise by Lucas Cranach the Elder Portrait of Frederick the Wise by Lucas Cranach the Elder Portrait of Frederick the Wise by Lucas Cranach the Elder
Portrait of Frederick the Wise by Lucas Cranach the Elder

Portrait of Frederick the Wise by Lucas Cranach the Elder

  • This highly significant portrait was composed by German Renaissance artist Lucas Cranach the Elder
  • Boasting a bold design and intense color, the work depicts Frederick the Wise, the Elector of Saxony
  • The important work was specially commissioned by Frederick's nephew, John the Magnanimous
  • Comparable examples can by found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Uffizi Gallery
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Item No. 30-8683
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Lucas Cranach the Elder and Workshop
1472-1553 | German

Portrait of Frederick the Wise

Oil on panel

The extraordinary artistic genius of the great Lucas Cranach the Elder is fully on display in this highly significant portrait. Painted at the height of the artist’s career, the work captures the visage of Frederick the Wise, the Elector of Saxony. It is one of an important series of portraits that Cranach painted of his most significant early patron, which had been specially commissioned by Frederick's nephew, John Frederick the Magnanimous. Other similar examples of Cranach's portrait can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) and the Uffizi Gallery (Florence). The portrait brings together the bold design, intense color and intricate detail of Cranach’s celebrated oeuvre, clearly displaying why he is widely regarded as the most respected German portraitist of the Renaissance era.

Cranach became the official painter of Frederick the Wise in 1505, an event which marked a turning point in his career, as he would remain in service to the family for the rest of his life. When Frederick died in 1525, Cranach came to serve his brother, John the Steadfast; following his death in 1532, he painted for his son, John the Magnanimous. It was John the Magnanimous who commissioned several versions of the present work, to be paired along with a portrait of his father. Once completed, the portraits were then sent to various towns and courts in order to garner support for Saxony and spread the ideas of Protestantism.

It was less than two decades earlier when Martin Luther had pinned his Ninety-Five Theses challenging the sale of indulgences by the Catholic Church to the doors of a church in Germany. By doing so, he directly set into motion the Protestant Reformation, evoking the ire of the Church and Rome. Luther was subsequently taken under the protection of Frederick the Wise, and thus Wittenberg became a bastion of the new religious thought.

Along with the likeness of Frederick, the present work also features laudatory verses on the lower portion of the panel. Considering the presence of the poem, as well as the religio-political position of Saxony in the early 16th century, it is highly likely that John the Magnanimous intended these portraits not as personal remembrances of his uncle and father, but rather as tools for propaganda. Delivered to political figures during a time of growing antagonism between Saxony and the Hapsburgs, the portraits undoubtedly were designed as a subtle display of influence and power.

Thus, with Cranach's patron motivated by the desire to spread his ideals, the portraits were produced in an impressive series of 60. While many of these portrait pairs were rather small in size, this example was almost certainly intended for an important recipient. It is far larger than comparable portraits of Frederick by Cranach, measuring over three times the size of the example in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is also set apart by its exceptional state of preservation and level of detail. Cranach's delicate treatment of the flesh tones and the smallest detail of each hair remains beautifully intact, allowing one to admire the highly developed technique of this German Renaissance master.

Alongside Hans Holbein the Younger and Albrecht Dürer, Cranach is considered among the primary icons of the German Renaissance. Both a painter and an engraver, he painted everything from religious and mythological scenes to female nudes. Yet, it is his portraits for which he is best remembered, as well as his vivid and expressive use of color. After becoming court painter to the Electors of Saxony in 1505, he became one of Wittenberg's leading citizens, befriending Martin Luther, serving on the city council, and even opening a bookshop and a pharmacy. Thanks to his skills as an engraver, he supervised the printing of Luther's propaganda materials, taking an active role in the Reformation.

Circa 1530-1535

Panel: 24 3/4" high x 18 5/8" wide
Frame: 31 1/2" high x 25 1/2" wide
specifications
Framed:25 1/2"W x 31 1/2"H
Unframed:18 5/8"W x 24 3/4"H
Period: Pre-18th Century
Origin:Germany
Subject:Portrait
Width:25 1/2
Height:31 1/2
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